Hidden Talents: The Black Belt
Written by Bwog Staff
During our time at Columbia, most of us meet one or two group leaders, student government presidents, star athletes, and the like. But there are many Columbians with lower profiles, whose talents are just as (or even more) awesome. In the lastest installment of Hidden Talents, Bwog presents, Rebecca Ehrhardt, CC ’13, Tae Kwon Do champ. Diana Clarke reports…
Rebecca Ehrhardt’s EC double, plastered with Grateful Dead posters and lined with the masterpieces of Russian literature, looks like any college student’s. There’s nothing to hint at the fact that she makes sure to end class every day by four o’clock so she’s got time for the hour train ride to Park Slope and the three hours of intense physical exertion that await her.
That’s because Rebecca Ehrhardt, CC ’13 and a double-major in English and Education, is also a second dan: kyo sah nim (read: black belt instructor) in Tae Kwon Do. A Brooklyn native, she chose Columbia to stay near the martial arts school where she’s trained for the last seven years. Martial arts, Ehrhardt explained, aren’t standardized like other sports. There are hundreds of slightly different styles of Tae Kwon Do, and no two schools have quite the same methods, so it’s impossible to switch schools seamlessly.
The martial arts school to which she’s sworn allegiance, Way of Action Tae Kwon Do, is housed on the second floor of a shabby-looking building. At the top of a long rickety staircase, “There’s a living martial arts school!” The school’s dingy exterior doesn’t bother Ehrhardt, who stated firmly, “The more commercial a martial arts school looks, the less likely it is to be legit.”
Way of Action is pretty legit. Their signature move, performed by advanced students and teachers, involves lying barebacked on a bed of nails, legs in the air, three cinderblocks on their stomach until someone else smashes the cinderblocks with a sledgehammer.
Beyond that, Ehrhardt says, “I don’t really have a favorite move,” although “in sparring, people seem to be worried about my high roundhouse kicks.” That’s because real Tae Kwon Do is about technique: “It’s not the moves you throw, it’s how you arrange them,” Ehrhardt explains (though she can break boards with her feet if she really, really must). “Good fighters will often win matches with very basic techniques because of their superior strategy.”
I don’t know strategy, but Ehrhardt’s must be pretty good; so profuse is her trophy collection that “it took a whole bin last year to get the trophies out of my room.” (This is true; I was there; she’s my ex-roommate.) And just a few weeks ago she defended the Grand Championship title that she won last fall, her first major adult victory. She competes in both of Tae Kwon Do’s main disciplines: forms—solo routines of moves featuring kicks, punches, and blocks; and sparring—in which opponents engage in controlled point fighting, weapons, self-defense, and breaking boards and bricks. “The other things are all extra,” says Ehrhardt. Victories in both of these areas make Ehrhardt a conspicuous commuter; she navigates the subway toting six-foot trophies. Despite their obnoxious size, Ehrhardt says most reactions have been positive, and that her fellow commuters often offer congratulations.
Is that why she does it? No, says Ehrhardt; doing Tae Kwon Do makes her feel “all sorts of things. It’s never one emotion. It’s when ideally the pursuit of martial arts is mental, physical, and intellectual, and requires immersing oneself in myriad ways.” How she manages any of that while the rest of us are overwhelmed just immersing ourselves in homework is a mystery, even when you live with her.